Monday, April 15, 2002

Man charged in sheriff's slaying

Suspect rode opponent's cycle, authorities say

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        SOMERSET, Ky. — A sniper felled a Kentucky sheriff at a fish fry and fled the scene riding a motorcycle belonging to one of the sheriff's opponents in his campaign for re-election.

        Police charged a Pulaski County man with the murder of Sheriff Sam Catron, who was campaigning at the rally. Danny S. Shelley, 30, of Eubank, was apprehended when he wrecked the motorcycle that police said is registered to Jeff Morris, a Republican candidate for sheriff in the May 28 primary.

        Sheriff Catron, 48, a Republican, has three GOP challengers in addition to Mr. Morris.

        Capt. Paul Hays, commander of the Kentucky State Police post in London, declined to comment on a motive for the shooting. He sidestepped questions about the relationship between Mr. Morris and Mr. Shelley, saying “that's part of the investigation that we're following up on.”

        Capt. Hays said the Yamaha motorcycle hadn't been reported stolen. State police spokeswoman Lt. Lisa Rudzinski said Mr. Morris is not a suspect in the case.

        Mr. Morris was a sheriff's deputy under Sheriff Catron from 1996 to July 2001, said Jim McWhorter, the chief deputy sworn in as sheriff Saturday night. Mr. McWhorter wouldn't comment on Mr. Morris' reason for leaving the sheriff's office, but he said he knew of no ill will between Sheriff Catron and Mr. Morris.

        Mr. Morris did not return phone calls to his home.

        Sheriff Catron was struck in the face by a single bullet from a high-powered rifle on Saturday as he was leaving the political rally, fish fry and fire department fund-raiser about 7:15 p.m. Capt. Hays said the shot came from “a considerable distance.”

        Sheriff Catron was known to wear a bulletproof vest, because his father, then-Somerset Police Chief Harold Catron, had been shot and killed in 1964. He had it on Saturday.

        Pulaski County Commonwealth's Attorney Eddy Montgomery said he may seek the death penalty in the case. Capt. Hays, of the state police, said investigators so far had not turned up any past criminal record on Mr. Shelley.

        Under Kentucky law, shooting a police officer in the line of duty is a capital offense. Mr. Montgomery said Sheriff Catron was in uniform when he was shot, but he said it may be questionable whether he was technically on duty.

        Sam Catron, running for a fifth term as sheriff, gave a campaign speech and bought two cakes at the rally in Shopville, a tiny community east of Somerset and about 70 miles south of Lexington.

        He had walked back to his cruiser to put the cakes inside when he was shot, said Shopville-Stab Volunteer Fire Department Chief R.J. Riley.

        “The cake was still sitting on the car, on the trunk lid,” said Darrell Beshears, the Pulaski County judge-executive.

        Mr. Shelley was apprehended shortly after the shooting, when a sheriff's deputy and a Shopville firefighter gave chase and Mr. Shelley wrecked the motorcycle he was riding.

        “The senseless murder or assassination of our sheriff, who always had a smile on his face and dedication in his heart, is devastating to the community,” Fred Neikirk, the former county attorney, said Sunday.

        Somerset Mayor J.P. Wiles, who has known Sheriff Catron since he was a deputy sheriff, said the sheriff's death shocked local residents.

        “People were just sick,” he said Sunday. “It was devastating. We've got a quiet little community here. Then something like this happens — it turns everything upside down.”

        Mr. Wiles said Sheriff Catron was known for his personal dedication to his job, and it was not unusual to find the sheriff, who was single, out on patrol with his deputies at 2 a.m.

        “Law enforcement was Sam's life,” the mayor said. “That's what he lived and breathed and did well.”

        Sheriff Catron trained as a pilot so he could fly a sheriff's department helicopter used in aerial spotting of marijuana plants.

        In September, Sheriff Catron announced more than 70 drug arrests on 129 indictments in what he termed the biggest drug sting of its kind in Pulaski County.

        Circuit Judge Bill Cain said Sheriff Catron kept his courtroom busy with his drug arrests. He said Catron used the helicopter to pinpoint pot patches and eradicate them. Lately, Catron was working on combatting an outbreak of methamphetamine labs.

        Sheriff Catron also had appeared on a segment of America's Most Wanted that aired Saturday about a former militia member who is wanted by police in eastern Kentucky.

        A memorial service for Sheriff Catron will be held at Lake Cumberland Funeral Home in Somerset, but arrangements were still pending Sunday night, said Kevin Reams, an employee of the home.

        Sheriff since 1985, Mr. Catron barely won the GOP nomination in his last re-election bid. He and a challenger, Kenneth “Kay” Stringer, tied after three vote counts, and Sheriff Catron was selected by a coin toss. A lawsuit by Mr. Stringer challenged the election that led to the coin toss, and when the suit prompted a judge to throw out the results, party officials selected Sheriff Catron as the nominee.

        Mr. Shelley was not widely known in Somerset, said Brian Perkins, a former classmate.

        “He was a jolly kid who went to work in Georgetown after he graduated from high school,” said Mr. Perkins, a deputy coroner in Pulaski County. “He had gotten injured and came back to Pulaski County.”

        Mr. Shelley's high school yearbook called him one of the sweetest guys in Pulaski County. Neighbors in Eubank didn't know Mr. Shelley or his family well.

        “They're just not mixers,” said Bill Ward, owner of Ward's Restaurant. “They didn't associate much with anyone.”


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